Breaking News
More () »

Oregon Health Authority gives mixed messages on whether vaccine is being held back for second doses

An OHA spokesperson's statements contradict those of the agency's coordinator for the COVID-19 crisis.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Is Oregon holding back COVID-19 vaccines to make sure there is enough supply for the second "booster" dose?

The answer is harder to find than you might suspect.

The logistical puzzle of giving out two doses of COVID vaccines separated by three or four weeks to hundreds of thousands of people in Oregon so far is not an easy one to solve. But it seemed Oregon had a clear plan.

As recently as Jan. 22, Dave Baden, the chief financial officer of the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) who was brought in to coordinate the state's pandemic response, said during a news conference on Zoom that groups giving out vaccines should hold back half of them. 

“Again, as [OHA's Public Health Division Director Rachael Banks] said, under our approach, we expect all our vaccinators are reserving second doses for people who’ve received their prime shot," Baden said. "Keep that in mind when you hear people claim there are thousands of doses sitting on shelves in Oregon. 

"Remember, we could provide doses to more people in these populations if we allocated all of our 100,000 doses each week in that way. But we don’t think that’s responsible until we get direction from CDC and the manufacturers to spend doses in that way."

RELATED: Is Oregon holding back COVID-19 vaccine doses for second shots? OHA official says no

The OHA posted Baden's comment later that day on Twitter to reiterate his point. It seemed like a reasonable explanation. There's just one big problem: it's apparently not happening.

On that same day, KGW reported that 12,000 doses reserved for teachers at the Oregon Convention Center's mass vaccination clinic would actually be 6,000 because the other half had to be set aside. We were later told that was not correct.

Just this week, a spokesperson for the clinic wrote, "rather than holding back doses, we’re planning for them based on anticipated allocation and appointment availability.”

That's more in line with what Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and chief medical adviser to President Biden, said this week about the national policy regarding COVID vaccines. He said doses should not be held back. 

RELATED: What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines in Oregon Tuesday

“Means rather than holding back on doses that would be designated for the second dose, given that we now have more and more confidence of the even flow of doses to go to locations ... we're gonna give a three-week window so people will know the doses they're gonna get and when they're gonna get them. We don't want to hold back things,” said Dr. Fauci.

He said a simple system would be using all doses as fast as possible, but making sure people who need a second dose get priority over everyone else.

“In other words if you give 50 million doses to individuals, and then the next time around when you get more doses, when you're at that third or fourth week, the first priority will always be to get the people who've gotten their first doses to get their second doses," Dr. Fauci said. "And then additional doses will be given to the next group of people who will get their first doses."

Now, back to the question of what Oregon is doing.

In the 11 days since the OHA’s COVID-19 response coordinator Dave Baden said vaccinators are supposed to hold back half their doses, the OHA has refused to answer pointed questions about his statement. 

The agency instead issued a brief reply stating, “No doses are being held back. If this is about second doses, we are allocating enough second doses to cover all first doses given out to vaccine providers currently.”

As of Monday, Feb. 1, the OHA reported Oregon has received 665,325 doses of vaccine and given 438,299 first and second shots.

RELATED: More COVID vaccines will soon be going to pharmacies nationwide

Before You Leave, Check This Out